Rupert of Hentzau: From the Memoirs of Fritz Von Tarlenheim
Chapter XIV: The News Comes to Strelsau
ON leaving No. 19, Rischenheim walked swiftly some little way up the Konigstrasse and then hailed a cab. He had hardly raised his hand when he heard his name called, and, looking round, saw Anton von Strofzin’s smart phaeton pulling up beside him. Anton was driving, and on the other seat was a large nosegay of choice flowers.
“Where are you off to?” cried Anton, leaning forward with a gay smile.
“Well, where are you? To a lady’s, I presume, from your bouquet there,”
answered Rischenheim as lightly as he could.
“The little bunch of flowers,” simpered young Anton, “is a cousinly offering to Helga von Tarlenheim, and I’m going to present it. Can I give you a lift anywhere?”’
Although Rischenheim had intended to go first to the palace, Anton’s offer seemed to give him a good excuse for drawing the more likely covert first.
“I was going to the palace to find out where the king is. I want to see him, if he’ll give me a minute or two,” he remarked.
“I’ll drive you there afterwards. Jump up. That your cab? Here you are, cabman,” and flinging the cabman a crown, he displaced the bouquet and made room for Rischenheim beside him.
Anton’s horses, of which he was not a little proud, made short work of the distance to my home. The phaeton rattled up to the door and both young men got out. The moment of their arrival found the chancellor just leaving to return to his own home. Helsing knew them both, and stopped to rally Anton on the matter of his bouquet. Anton was famous for his bouquets, which he distributed widely among the ladies of Strelsau.
“I hoped it was for my daughter,” said the chancellor slyly. “For I love flowers, and my wife has ceased to provide me with them; moreover, I’ve ceased to provide her with them, so, but for my daughter, we should have none.”
Anton answered his chaff, promising a bouquet for the young lady the next day, but declaring that he could not disappoint his cousin. He was interrupted by Rischenheim, who, looking round on the group of bystanders, now grown numerous, exclaimed: “What’s going on here, my dear chancellor? What are all these people hanging about here for? Ah, that’s a royal carriage!”
“The queen’s with the countess,” answered Helsing. “The people are waiting to see her come out.”
“She’s always worth seeing,” Anton pronounced, sticking his glass in his eye.
“And you’ve been to visit her?” pursued Rischenheim.
“Why, yes. I--I went to pay my respects, my dear Rischenheim.”
“An early visit!”
“It was more or less on business.”
“Ah, I have business also, and very important business. But it’s with the king.”
“I won’t keep you a moment, Rischenheim,” called Anton, as, bouquet in hand, he knocked at the door.
“With the king?” said Helsing. “Ah, yes, but the king--”
“I’m on my way to the palace to find out where he is. If I can’t see him, I must write at once. My business is very urgent.”
“Indeed, my dear count, indeed! Dear me! Urgent, you say?”
“But perhaps you can help me. Is he at Zenda?”
The chancellor was becoming very embarrassed; Anton had disappeared into the house; Rischenheim buttonholed him resolutely.
“At Zenda? Well, now, I don’t--Excuse me, but what’s your business?”
“Excuse me, my dear chancellor; it’s a secret.”
“I have the king’s confidence.”
“Then you’ll be indifferent to not enjoying mine,” smiled Rischenheim.
“I perceive that your arm is hurt,” observed the chancellor, seeking a diversion.
“Between ourselves, that has something to do with my business. Well, I must go to the palace. Or--stay--would her Majesty condescend to help me? I think I’ll risk a request. She can but refuse,” and so saying Rischenheim approached the door.
“Oh, my friend, I wouldn’t do that,” cried Helsing, darting after him.
“The queen is--well, very much engaged. She won’t like to be troubled.”
Rischenheim took no notice of him, but knocked loudly. The door was opened, and he told the butler to carry his name to the queen and beg a moment’s speech with her. Helsing stood in perplexity on the step. The crowd was delighted with the coming of these great folk and showed no sign of dispersing. Anton von Strofzin did not reappear. Rischenheim edged himself inside the doorway and stood on the threshold of the hall.
There he heard voices proceeding from the sitting-room on the left. He recognized the queen’s, my wife’s, and Anton’s. Then came the butler’s, saying, “I will inform the count of your Majesty’s wishes.”
The door of the room opened; the butler appeared, and immediately behind him Anton von Strofzin and Bernenstein. Bernenstein had the young fellow by the arm, and hurried him through the hall. They passed the butler, who made way for them, and came to where Rischenheim stood.
“We meet again,” said Rischenheim with a bow.
The chancellor rubbed his hands in nervous perturbation. The butler stepped up and delivered his message: the queen regretted her inability to receive the count. Rischenheim nodded, and, standing so that the door could not be shut, asked Bernenstein whether he knew where the king was.
Now Bernenstein was most anxious to get the pair of them away and the door shut, but he dared show no eagerness.
“Do you want another interview with the king already?” he asked with a smile. “The last was so pleasant, then?”
Rischenheim took no notice of the taunt, but observed sarcastically:
“There’s a strange difficulty in finding our good king. The chancellor here doesn’t know where he is, or at least he won’t answer my questions.”
“Possibly the king has his reasons for not wishing to be disturbed,”
“It’s very possible,” retorted Rischenheim significantly.
“Meanwhile, my dear count, I shall take it as a personal favor if you’ll move out of the doorway.”
“Do I incommode you by standing here?” answered the count.
“Infinitely, my lord,” answered Bernenstein stiffly.
“Hallo, Bernenstein, what’s the matter?” cried Anton, seeing that their tones and glances had grown angry. The crowd also had noticed the raised voices and hostile manner of the disputants, and began to gather round in a more compact group.
Suddenly a voice came from inside the hall: it was distinct and loud, yet not without a touch of huskiness. The sound of it hushed the rising quarrel and silenced the crowd into expectant stillness. Bernenstein looked aghast, Rischenheim nervous yet triumphant, Anton amused and gratified.
“The king!” he cried, and burst into a laugh. “You’ve drawn him, Rischenheim!”
The crowd heard his boyish exclamation and raised a cheer. Helsing turned, as though to rebuke them. Had not the king himself desired secrecy? Yes, but he who spoke as the king chose any risk sooner than let Rischenheim go back and warn Rupert of his presence.
“Is that the Count of Luzau-Rischenheim?” called Rudolf from within. “If so, let him enter and then shut the door.”
There was something in his tone that alarmed Rischenheim. He started back on the step. But Bernenstein caught him by the arm.
“Since you wish to come in, come in,” he said with a grim smile.
Rischenheim looked round, as though he meditated flight. The next moment Bernenstein was thrust aside. For one short instant a tall figure appeared in the doorway; the crowd had but a glimpse, yet they cheered again. Rischenheim’s hand was clasped in a firm grip; he passed unwillingly but helplessly through the door. Bernenstein followed; the door was shut. Anton faced round on Helsing, a scornful twist on his lips.
“There was a deuced lot of mystery about nothing,” said he. “Why couldn’t you say he was there?” And without waiting for an answer from the outraged and bewildered chancellor he swung down the steps and climbed into his phaeton.
The people round were chatting noisily, delighted to have caught a glimpse of the king, speculating what brought him and the queen to my house, and hoping that they would soon come out and get into the royal carriage that still stood waiting.
Had they been able to see inside the door, their emotion would have been stirred to a keener pitch. Rudolf himself caught Rischenheim by the arm, and without a moment’s delay led him towards the back of the house. They went along a passage and reached a small room that looked out on the garden. Rudolf had known my house in old days, and did not forget its resources.
“Shut the door, Bernenstein,” said Rudolf. Then he turned to Rischenheim. “My lord,” he said, “I suppose you came to find out something. Do you know it now?”
Rischenheim plucked up courage to answer him.
“Yes, I know now that I have to deal with an impostor,” said he defiantly.
“Precisely. And impostors can’t afford to be exposed.” Rischenheim’s cheek turned rather pale. Rudolf faced him, and Bernenstein guarded the door. He was absolutely at their mercy; and he knew their secret. Did they know his--the news that Rupert of Hentzau had brought?
“Listen,” said Rudolf. “For a few hours to-day I am king in Strelsau. In those few hours I have an account to settle with your cousin: something that he has, I must have. I’m going now to seek him, and while I seek him you will stay here with Bernenstein. Perhaps I shall fail, perhaps I shall succeed. Whether I succeed or fail, by to-night I shall be far from Strelsau, and the king’s place will be free for him again.”
Rischenheim gave a slight start, and a look of triumph spread over his face. They did not know that the king was dead.
Rudolf came nearer to him, fixing his eyes steadily on his prisoner’s face.
“I don’t know,” he continued, “why you are in this business, my lord.
Your cousin’s motives I know well. But I wonder that they seemed to you great enough to justify the ruin of an unhappy lady who is your queen.
Be assured that I will die sooner than let that letter reach the king’s hand.”
Rischenheim made him no answer.
“Are you armed?” asked Rudolf.
Rischenheim sullenly flung his revolver on the table. Bernenstein came forward and took it.
“Keep him here, Bernenstein. When I return I’ll tell you what more to do. If I don’t return, Fritz will be here soon, and you and he must make your own plans.”
“He sha’n’t give me the slip a second time,” said Bernenstein.
“We hold ourselves free,” said Rudolf to Rischenheim, “to do what we please with you, my lord. But I have no wish to cause your death, unless it be necessary. You will be wise to wait till your cousin’s fate is decided before you attempt any further steps against us.” And with a slight bow he left the prisoner in Bernenstein’s charge, and went back to the room where the queen awaited him. Helga was with her. The queen sprang up to meet him.
“I mustn’t lose a moment,” he said. “All that crowd of people know now that the king is here. The news will filter through the town in no time.
We must send word to Sapt to keep it from the king’s ears at all costs: I must go and do my work, and then disappear.”
The queen stood facing him. Her eyes seemed to devour his face; but she said only: “Yes, it must be so.”
“You must return to the palace as soon as I am gone. I shall send out and ask the people to disperse, and then I must be off.”
“To seek Rupert of Hentzau?”